Daily Herald opinion: Limits on local efforts to secure the Bears could disrupt a transformative opportunity
The suburban advocacy group Americans for Prosperity deserves at least some credit for calling attention to the ingrained business practice of strong-arming government's taxpayers for help with private construction and relocation expenses.
But the village of Arlington Heights' effort to land the Chicago Bears NFL franchise is not the hill on which to fight this battle.
As our Chris Placek reported last week, the group is passing petitions aiming to force the Arlington Heights Village Board to consider a proposal that would forbid providing incentives to help the Bears move to the property vacated by Arlington International Racecourse. A spokesman argues that the Bears have plenty of money to relocate and build a new stadium rather than asking for help from taxpayers.
It's a reasonable argument, and one that could be made in scores of cases across the suburbs and hundreds across the country. But it also ignores the fact that in many cases -- and the Bears coming to Arlington Heights is certainly one of them -- landing a successful business or industrial development can forge a partnership that dramatically improves the outlook for a community's taxpayers, as well as enhance the quality of life for an entire region.
In the case of a Bears stadium in the suburbs, the prospect is especially profound. This isn't just a new shopping mall or housing development. It is the kind of rare opportunity that can transform even the most singular community.
With that image as a backdrop, it is also important to note that Americans for Prosperity's drive is premature as well as ill-advised. No proposal for a Bears subsidy has emerged yet, so foreclosing at this stage any options that may emerge takes away the chance for residents to consider and analyze proposals that could potentially be in their best interest.
Beyond that, removing an avenue of negotiation from one party on an issue that includes numerous actors -- the city of Chicago and the state of Illinois most noticeably -- is hardly a smart government strategy and could give the village's chief competitor a decided advantage. Moreover, as Mayor Tom Hayes pointed out in a statement released Thursday, the Americans for Prosperity proposal extends beyond just incentives to the Bears. The policy it foresees would have prevented numerous projects that have made Arlington Heights' successful downtown an envy of the suburbs and would "permanently put the Village at a competitive disadvantage compared to other Chicagoland towns for any and all economic development efforts going forward."
The issue of government subsidies to lure business and industry, often pitting nation against nation, state against state or, as with the Bears moving from Chicago to Arlington Heights, town against town, is a valid and serious topic for debate and action. But it is best viewed as a matter of broad public policy. In the real world we live in today, addressing it by hamstringing a single community in its efforts to take advantage of a transformative opportunity would be more punitive than productive.